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The Hinds Head, Bray
April 21, 2015
A quaint and picturesque village in Berkshire, Bray is quite a departure from the hustle and bustle of London. However, this pretty riverside parish is one of the UK’s culinary capitals, containing four restaurants that have Michelin stars to their names and which boast top chefs such as Michel and Albert Roux, as well as the inimitable Heston Blumenthal.
Heston’s Fat Duck, known to all for its phenomenal, unconventional and multisensory dining, has been celebrated – for good reason – more times than can be counted. It is the mecca for all excitable gourmands. However, it is not the only restaurant of his worth travelling to Bray for.
A 15th century building, nestled away in the heart of Bray and sitting across the road from Heston’s other two ventures, The Hinds Head is a Michelin star pub that infuses the wonder of gourmet cooking with the relaxed and welcoming atmosphere of a good local.
The building itself is sodden with history and has maintained its original design aesthetic, without any of that whitewashing of wooden panels that you’ll see throughout West London or Clapham. The menu on offer reflects the venue, serving traditional British dishes, including some straight from the Tudor kitchens at Hampton Court Palace.
We started with a balanced and flavoursome Pea and Ham Soup served in an espresso cup alongside a quail scotch egg. The yolk of the egg was runny whilst the beautifully seasoned meat remained tender.
Next we sampled the famous Hash of Snails – a starter based on a 1884 recipe – which had been cooked in garlic butter, and was served on a thin slice of chargrilled bread with pickled walnuts, pistachio paste and capers, garnished with fennel ribbons. The snails were soft and buttery, pairing well with the light crunch of the fennel and toast.
The Venison Carpaccio was served amongst rocket and watercress, topped Parmesan shaving and thin radish discs, and dressed with a horseradish, turnip, shallot and caper vinaigrette. The meat was served cold and, despite being in essence a salad, the dish was hearty and rich with the venison warming in the mouth and melting away, coated in the creamy fats of the cheese.
We elected to stick with the meat for mains, opting for the Fillet of Hereford Prime with Bone Barrow sauce, the renowned Triple Cooked Chips, and a Baby Spinach Salad with “Lord of a Hundred” Cheese. The sustainably reared, grass fed, dry aged steak came in a beautifully crisp round. When we cut into it, the browned crust gave way to an intensely tender and juicy rare centre that was perfectly pink the entire way through. The sauce was decadent and moreish, with small chunks of soft bone marrow floating in it. The chips lived up to their reputation and were quite simple the perfect steak chips. The salad came with Parmesan and pine nuts which combined in the mouth to create a spinach pesto whose creaminess paired well with the intensity of the bone marrow.
Our appetite had been well and truly sated but we strove on, determined to try the some of the historic desserts on the menu.
The Quaking Pudding – a creamy gelatinous 17th century dish that “quakes” like a jelly – was light and sweet, with the vanilla beans in it creating a warm, full flavour. The Hinds Head’s take on Wassailing is a caramalised butter loaf with apple and Pomona, pan-fried and swimming in a cold caramel apple sauce, garnished with an apple flower, apple compote and apple ice cream. The temperature play and sticky sweetness of the dish gives it a cheekiness that pairs beautifully with a glass of cold, musty Ice Cider.
With the Fat Duck currently staging a pop-up in Australia, The Hinds Head is most definitely the place the visit in Bray. The building on its own is a must-see, with so many different dining areas to choose from and gorgeous wooden beams to admire. The food is a pleasant mixture of Michelin refinery and good hearty English grub. All in all, there is something for everyone and no matter your taste, you will not be disappointed.
Vicky Ilankovan – Lifestyle Editor